Calling in at the RGS conference

I suppose having blown a quarter of my annual budget on it, I should perhaps reflect on the experience of my attending the RGS-IBG international conference – and for the first time too (apart from presenting at their little cousin’s Postgraduate Mid-Term conference). In hindsight I should have submitted an abstract for presentation too. Attending a conference without presenting anything seems a bit fraudulent.

Geography is a wide-ranging subject area with a wide audience and a multitude of actors. From mapping the ghostly to refugee crises, sex education to transport transitions, small and big, bizarre and mundane, real and unreal – all included. Three days of over 20 parallel venues, four sessions in each venue and about four presentations per session. Do the maths. About 1,400 attendees from many different countries.

Apart from seeking a more active involvement (next time), what have I taken away from it all? Highly generalised, but I think noticeable nonetheless:

Non-UK participants are distinctly different. Whether its foreign researchers based in the UK (I would count as an example here) or researcher from non-UK universities, both seemingly find it easier or more natural to be critical of (political) power structures. UK folks are more timid and reserved in that respect. For (UK) academics to truly make impact they have to take the ‘theory goggles’ off and learn to focus outwards. However funding structures may keep universities in check and place, making it a power struggle in itself. This November conference in Newcastle should be further enlightening this subject too, or at least shining a spotlight on it.

During the course of the conference, I have met some great and wonderful people – from all over the place, and including natives of course – and it presented a fantastic opportunity to chat and exchange. The venue and host, Exeter (university on top of a hill in a generally lumpy city) could do with some real cycle infrastructure and sympathetic route layouts. Too many token efforts, no real cohesion. On that note, I remain looking forward to Cycling and Society symposium in Manchester, week after next, where I will take (play?) a bit more of an active role too.


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